The Ancient Acheson's of Scotland

Aspiring to Restore the History of our Clann


From the outset I would like to state that what follows is in large part a theory I have been forming for several years now, and though it is (in my opinion) the most plausible story of our earliest Acheson ancestor's rise from anonymous pre-history, it is (as with any theory) yet subject to conjecture, and testing. This is my own personal theory, here presented as I see it, and as such no one else should be held accountable for that which follows. If you disagree with my line of reasoning, simply stop reading! In the very least this theory may help others to form their own opinions as to how, where, and why our Clann came to be.

Much circumstantial and factual evidence exists in support of this theory, and will be cited as appropriate to enable the readers to make their own decisions reguarding the basis for my assumptions. I will not omit fact here in order to appease anyones sense of social or religious discomfort, but will merely attempt to state the truth as I see it. Remember that none of us has any say in whom we are descended from, any more than our ancestors themselves did. Fact and well founded speculation here must be paramount, or the truth will inevitably evade us.

Though I myself find this theory as intriguing as a fine detective novel, I can honestly say that I did not intend to arrive at any particular conclusion when I set out to uncover the story behind our surname. But to me now, the conclusion is inescapable. Let us go back to the beginning together, and see what we shall see . . .

Pre-Documented Acheson History-

In order to research the origins of the ancient surname of Acheson, we should first attempt to see where and under what circumstances it first appears so that we may speculate on the period just prior to its known documentation. To speculate further back to any period other than the early medieval period will likely forever stand as unsupportable speculation at best. As such, we must consider several factors in order to better understand the surnames appearance:

a) The history of the region of Lowland Scotland in which the surname is first believed to have arisen.

b) The Gordon Clann affiliation which the Acheson surname is said, and indeed appears to have had for several hundred years.

c) Remaining early evidence surviving to the present day, about which we may postulate our theory.


d) Information pertaining to specific individuals (occupations, religious affiliations, place of inhabitation, naming trends, spouses, military endeavours, personal relationships, etc.) which may influence our line of reasoning.

Most credible sources agree that the Acheson surname and its variants first appear in documented history in the Scottish Lowlands, from south of the Firth of Forth, to around the region of Hadrian's wall (probably including some of modern day England's Northumberland, which during various periods was under Scottish influence). This is also the same region where the rise of the Clann Gordon first appears in documentation, west of Berwick along the northern English border. As I hope to adequately demonstate later, Achesons appear to have indeed had a long relationship with their parent Clann, but for now let us take what has long been stated by historians on face value; that the Acheson's were a Sept (sub-family) of the Clann Gordon. From their mutual existence in the same region of Scotland we might assume that their affiliation was from a very early time around the 1100 or 1200's A.D., when Gordons are first granted lands and titles.

Obviously, some sort of forerunner patriarchs to both of these surnames must have existed prior to the names' earliest recorded citations. They had to have had parents after all. As alluded to in the Sept Definition, Clann History and Surname Derivation sections, their are numerous possible individuals predating this period who might ultimately be responsible for the adoption of these surnames. Several such possible Anglo-Saxon (dating sometime after 500 A.D.) individuals for the Acheson surname, and Norman (dating about 1050 to 1100 A.D.) individuals for the Gordon surname. I shall not repeat those sections here, though I may refer back to them.

We can not hope to be so fortunate as to trace our lineage verifiably to such an early date as 500 to 900 A.D., since sufficient documents from this period simply do not exist. We can however, based on early Gordon citations, Clann history, and historical accounts of activities in the region, form some hypothesis as to how and why Acheson's later came to be. Our Acheson ancestor might also have been one of the countless Anglo-Saxons who were forced northward into northern England and Lowland Scotland by the insurgence of the Norman monarchy and court in England. In any event, the name by translation appears to be early Anglo-Saxon.

Adam Gordon was granted land during the reign of King Malcolm Canmore III (1040 to 1093 A.D.) in Berwickshire. Of probable Norman extraction, he likely had ties to the Norman Kings in England (having come over from Normandy in France) and/or relatives in England and France. Holding lands and title meant that Adam and his heirs were vassals to the ruling King, and the early Gordon family probably vacillated their hamage and duties back and forth between the Norman English Kings, and Scottish Kings, since lowland Scotland was long fought over by both sides, and lords in the region generally went with the national trend in order to maintain their rank and station.

Lands and titles also carried with them the obligation of military service in the leige lords army in times of trouble, and for calls to events such as a Papal decree for a crusade in the Middle East. During such times lords would typically gather as many able bodied men about them as they could muster (leaving a small garrison behind for defense), and head off to support of the cause. The early Gordons have a long history of rising to such military occasions, and a resulting Clann motto is noteably "By courage, not cunning".

Under the feudal system each lord who held sway through the grace of a king, would sub-partition his lands and divide their use among loyal supporters and relations, in return for their fealty and support when the king's call should come down. Indeed we later find a S' Thomas Atkinson of Bonkyll in Berwickshire in 1429 very near to the region of the earliest Gordon lands. Such lords often gathered about them bodies of armed knights (like S' Thomas), to help them defend their property, keep the peace, and administer justice. As such many of the earliest Scottish knighthoods date from this period, and countless coats of arms undoubtedly arose.

During the reign of King Henry I, Scotland (lowland at least) was ostensibly under the rule of King Henry Plantagenet I (the Norman King of England). Under his leadership a system akin to that of the old Saxon fyrd (or Militia) was implementeded in England, whereby every freeman, even down to artisans in the towns, and the simplest freeholders, were required to maintain certain military equipment and be ready for the king's service in case of emergency (H1). Under his rule the English played no significant part in the first two crusades, though back in Scotland, the early Gordons probably did, since many early Norman-Scottish. families participated in these two mostly French crusades. They would of course have brought along any knights or retainers who owed them service for such activities.

Sir Acheson's Double-Eagle

The actual coat of arms that a knight took as his own is often overlooked as a source for information. We must remember that someone actively selected the devices they chose to bear on their battle shield as being representative of something(s) about themselves, or about some event in their history. This tradition was continued by younger sons who though perhaps not inheriting their father's shield, continued the tradition by incorporating or changing some element(s) of it to indicate their personal branch of the family, or by "impaling" their father's coat of arms with their spouses or mothers (encorporating elements from both).

The double-eagle motif dates back into very ancient history indeed. The symbol of an eagle (and particularly the black double-headed version), was a symbol repeatedly used by successor states to the Roman Empire (taken from the Roman Eagle- where the added second head is believed to have heralded a return of the Empire). Kings of France (some Plantagenets I believe), Germany, Austria, Albania, Serbia, and the Tsars of Russia have all used similar devices on their royal family coats of arms at various points in history. A famous Norman/ French Knight named Bertrand de Guesclin (pronounced Gecklin) also encorporated the black double-headed eagle into his coat as well as the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne. Interestingly, he was born as were many of the H.R. Emperors in a place called "Aachen".

Additionally, and perhaps most significantly, the black double-headed eagle was also an emblem utilized by the medieval crusading Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem Mount, or "Templar Knights" as they were called. Right down to the present day, this symbol has been used by the mysterious offshoot brotherhood of the Templar Knights, the Freemasons. To these ancient brotherhoods, the double-eagle symbol signified in turn: a Grandmaster of the Templar Knights, and later a Master Mason of the 32nd (highest) degree of York Rite Freemasonry who is termed a Knight Templar. Some modern Freemasons might argue that the bird was a black doubled-headed kingfisher, though the resemblance of these birds of prey would have been remarkable in any event, and is documented both ways. I personally believe the eagle concept is historically correct, since the Templars had a strong presence in Rome (near the Vatican and sea ports to the middle east), and derived their authority from the Papacy which also crowned Holy Roman Emperors).

This startling double-eagle "coincidence" when I discovered it was simply too remarkable to ignore. Could it be true that perhaps an ancient patriarch of the Acheson surname was non-other than a Crusading Scot who with his Clann had ventured to the Holy Land and earned his spurs?!

Certainly this is possible, and perhaps probable given the circumstances- here is an example to help drive home this possibility: Respected genealogists in America know that perhaps as many as 40 to 60 million Americans (of about 260 million) could perhaps trace a branch of their lineage back to one of the Royal families of Europe (who are largely intermarried and were relatively few in number). How many people then might trace their ancestry back to one of the tens of thousands of crusaders who are known to have existed?! Most of us would be the correct answer . . .

The unique thing about our surname however is that the very surname and double-eagle device themselves can perhaps both be attributed to an order of Crusading Knights. Remember that from the surname derivation section, it can be demonstrated that the surname of Acheson and its variants translate fairly directly from the Anglo-Saxon "Ecga's son" or "Aecca's son" to "Sword Son" or "Son of the Sword". What were the Knights Templar, if not "Son's of the Sword"?

It is from these knights that the very code of Chivallry itself was defined, and all of the succeeding orders of knights and the Arthurian legends took root from this ancient Templar order. Additionally the two ancient family mottos of the Acheson surname that I am aware of also seem to hint at Templar Origins: From the Latin "Vigilantibus" which denotes roughly "watchfuless"- which is exactly the reason the Templars were formed initially, to "watch over the pilgrims on the roads to the Holy Land"; and "Ane chast arbor" for "One pure tree"- from which we recall that "purity" of the soul was ostensibly the highest goal of every Templar Knight.

The following image depicts Godfrey de Boullion who was one of the first nine founders of the Templar Knights. He is bearing a shield with three silver eagles on a black field (just about the reverse of an Acheson coat!), while what appears to be a group of Norman-Scottish Knights journey along with him:

Right most is the Royal Rampant Lion of Scotland; while over Godfrey's right shoulder on his left is the familliar crescent of the Seton family (which bears 3 crescents); and behind the Seton knight appears what looks like the Fraser coat. All of these knights with the Templar Grand Master are apparently Norman-Scottish coats depicted in the first Crusade (in which Godfrey died about 1100). Godfrey's use of the eagle here exhibits well the Templar preference for the eagle motif and the use of the primary Templar colors (black and white). He is not the only Grand Master to bear it since at least Bertrand de Guesclin also had a black double-headed eagle on a white field about 1360.

During the reign of Henry II (grandson of Henry I) Scotland fell firmly under the control of the English. As such the nobles of Scotland and their feudal retainers likely supplied troops to Henry's later military endeavours. Under his 2nd son, the now famous crusading Richard Plantagenet I, Scotland was again granted freedom from English rule, as Richard was seeking to raise money and gather troops for the Crusades. During this third crusade, countless English, Welshman, and Scots journeyed to the holy land to "rout out the infidel Saracens". One can rightly believe that many a knight earned his spurs fighting in the ranks of Richard's splendid army. When Richard left the crusade to return back to his unattended kingdom, he did so in secrecy (attempting to avoid capture by his enemies in Europe) under the protection and disguise of Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem Mount. Their protection was not in the end sufficient for ill fated Richard. He was captured in Austria, later ransomed, and eventually died fighting in 1199 in Challus, France defending his estates there. He fell to an apparently random crossbow shot by one Bertram de Guerdon (a Gordon relation).

Though the first verifiable citation of a Gordon's participation in a crusade is that of two Gordon's (William and Adam) leading the thousand man strong Scots contingent in the Eighth Crusade in 1270, there can be little doubt that Gordons had previously been at least "minor" players in crusading engagements leading up to this distinguished post recorded by history (it is possible that there are earlier verifiable Gordon citations which exist that I am presently unaware of). Sent by King Alexander III of Scotland to serve under King Louis IX of France in the crusade, men of their own Clann (i.e. Achesons) would have rallied to the call, and participated along with them. Gordon descent from the Normans may have influenced the decision to place Sir William Gordon at the head of the Scots auxilliaries. The following image dating from the 13th century appears to depict at least one Gordon knight (William and/or Adam) in the eighth crusade along side King Louis IX of France in 1270.

King Louis IX is far left with a knight whose shield appears to bear the Gordon three boars heads beside him, while perhaps another Gordon brother is reaching over the first Gordons head from behind.

Under King Edward I of England, Scotland was ruthlessly treated, and just prior to this period we find that a Sir Adam Gordon (son of the Adam in the Eighth crusade) was wounded in chivalrous personal combat against then Crown Prince Edward, fighting him to a draw in 1266. By this we may judge that the lowland Gordon Clann was sympathetic to Scotlands plight under Henry III, and Edward I.

To this point we seem to have a fairly steady picture of the Gordons siding perceptably against the English (Being purportedly of Norman Extraction, though granted lands by a Scottish King; with possible crusading activity under a the French King in the first two crusades; while a Guerdon actually killed King Richard I after the third crusade- not very popular with the English I'll wager; Gordon participation under Louis IX in the Eighth Crusade- sent by a Scottish King under control of a French one, perhaps not for the first time); and finally Sir Adam's duel with Edward I- A.K.A. "Longshanks" and "Hammer of the Scots". We can only believe that Gordon Clann sympathies lay with Scotland or just about anyone, but the English at this time. Anglo-Saxon descended Achesons on the surface would seem to have little reason to stand with the usurping Plantagenet monarchs (who had two centuries earlier outsted the Saxon kings, driving many Anglo-Saxons northward into Scotland), and if Gordon Clann activities are taken to be any indication.

The Gordon chiefs and numerous other famous lowland Norman-Scottish families (Seton, Frasier, Sinclair, Montgomery, etc.) were obviously heavy participants in crusades from the first to the eighth (one of the last), and appear to have done so either as Templars, or under Templar leadership (definatively in the first crusade, and perhaps in others as well). It is therefore not unreasonable to assume (given the Acheson black and white double eagle coat, and their later citations within or near to the lands of many of these same Norman-Scottish families) that a lowland Acheson (or Achesons) accompanied these more historically documented Scottish Clanns in the crusades as well. This is of course particularly likely since the Achesons were a Sept of the Gordons, who were crusaders and would certainly have raised every able bodied man to accompany them on these endeavours.

From his chosen coat, we may gather that one of the earliest Acheson Knights was in the very least inspired by the Templar eagle motifs, if not a Templar himself. Future evidence continues to indicate Acheson family involvement with either the Knights Templar, and the later Templar offshoot Freemasonic brotherhoods. Similarly, from such an early and distinctive individual like a Templar Knight a surname such as "Acheson" (Sword son) might also potentially have been derived.

We may also find that there were other early Acheson coats of arms other than the eagle variants, which could similarly exhibit Templar motifs. One such coat associated with a possible Acheson surname variant appears at exactly the same time and place as early Acheson variants, and is also a documented Sept of the Gordons- that of "Ayton" or "Aiten". Though some historians have felt that this name was derived from the river Ayer in lowland Scotland, I submit here that it is more likely an early variant of the "Aitchison" surname, since it too is a documented Sept of the Gordon Clann and is found in many of the same places early Achesons are found. An early Ayton coat of Arms exhibits the Templar motif of an Engrailed cross, very similar to the one that the Templar Sinclair Knights bore during the Crusades (which bore a black engrailed cross on a silver/white field).

An Ayton Coat of Arms

An Early Sinclair Coat of Arms

Following the eighth crusade the "duelling" Sir Adam Gordon's son (also Sir Adam) aided William Wallace in recapturing the Castle of Wigton in 1297 (of which Adam was later made Governor). From this we may gather that the Gordon Clann supported Scottish independence form England. Sir Adam was a close supporter of the Lord of Badenoch, "the Red Cummin" whom Robert the Bruce killed outside of Dumfries Kirk (church). At first Sir Adam tried to avenge "the Comyn’s" death, and supported the Balliol claim to the Scottish throne. As such he served under the English King Edward I (with whom his father had dueled) as Judiciary of Lothian in 1305. Sir Adam also apparently held a seat in the English council at Westminister. As mentioned in the section on Clann Gordon History, he later joined with Robert the Bruce, and well . . . The rest is history!

All of these preceding military activities in which the Gordons seem embroiled would have provided countless opportunities for some of their retainers and feudal sub-alterns to have advanced their careers. Judging by the numerous Acheson coats of arms today (which were originally to be displayed on their battle shields), and the sheild motif's probable Templar origin, the Acheson family would seem to have a fairly extensive history of military activity itself.

Another question we might ask ourselves is, "Is there any evidence of Achesons having a granted coat of arms nearly that far back?". Though I have not had an opportunity to research the contents of any Peerage Rolls themselves to see if Crusader era coats exist, there is evidence indicating that some did. The earliest citation of Achesons from the Database demonstrates at least one early knighthood S' Thomas Atkinson of Bonkyll in 1429 (who placed his seal on an indenture), one William who was servitor (probably a page or squire) to Sir Symon Glendonwyn, and numerous early (ca. 1400) custumars in Forfarshire, Berwickshire, and the Lothians (customs duty collectors- which wasn't a job lightly given to commoners). These citations given the poor records existing from this early period suggest a fairly well established and widespread family of means by the 13th and 14th centuries.

Additionally, the many variations of the Acheson surname itself seem to support an early grant to coats of arms. The fact that names like Atkinson, Acheson, and Etchison all have coats based upon the same double-eagle motif, and that the split between at least most of the Atkinson and Achesoune variations appears to have occured prior to documentation of the Great-Line of Acheson descent (commencing ca. 1371), suggests that their common double-eagle motif may predate even this early period. The number of alteration differences between the Atkinson and many of the Acheson coats additionally suggests untold generations of separation to give time for these coats to "evolve" apart.

Though I have not seen the Rolls of the peers of early England and Scotland, I do know that many of these peers had titles and lands in both England and Scotland simultaneously (and often in Normady as well). In the time of King Henry III of England only two eagle based coats of arms appeared on his Rolls. By the time of Edward II (who during his early reign was sovereign of Scotland as well) there were forty three coats of arms displaying eagle variations. In light of the Clann Gordons frequent military endeavours and with the quantity of Acheson coats existing today, it is difficult to believe that at least some of these earliest eagle coats didn't belong to Achesons.

Extrapolating upon these concepts we might try incorporating in the possiblity that the Acheson surname could be attributable to Arkil Ecgfrith's son (or any of his potential brothers or his/their descendants) as progenitor of the Acheson name. Historical tradition among the MacFarlane Clann indicates that some of Arkil's early descendants did indeed participate alongside Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn, and were duly rewarded for their efforts. See the bottom of the Surname Derivation section again if necessary reguarding Arkil. Arkil's son appears as the first Earl of Lennox (and had at least eight sons of his own). Alwyn's younger son Gilchrist had a son Malduin who befriended Robert the Bruce and fought with him at Bannockburn. His son Parlain is said to have been the progenitor of the Clann MacFarlane. Presumeably other descendants of Arkil would have been similarly motivated to ally with the Bruce much as the Gordon Clann did.

Though an incredibly interesting theory, it might remain little more than that without any further collaborating evidence. At this point I should suggest a few well written books which will lend the reader invaluable insight into the theory of a lowland Scottish Acheson's descent from a Templar Knight. I will hereafter draw heavily from these in my theoretical extrapolation. These books are not the only evidence in support of this Templar Knight theory however. In fact the more I find out about early Acheson's and their descendant branches through genealogy, the more strongly convinced I become of the correctness of the Templar Origins Theory.

Templar-Masonic Origins

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